Russian Parliament Threatens Demonstrators With Massive Fines
In the latest assault on the freedoms of expression and assembly in Russia, lawmakers loyal to President Putin gave preliminary approval on May 22 to a bill that would threaten demonstration organizers with massive fines of up to 1.5 million rubles, or $48,000. Freedom House strongly condemns this draft legislation, which, while thinly veiled behind claims of protecting public safety, is clearly intended to intimidate demonstrators and severely punish public dissent.
The fines, which may also include up to 200 hours of community service, could be applied to organizers of rallies that turn violent or attract more than a pre-approved number of participants. Even ordinary demonstration attendees could face fines of up to 1 million rubles ($32,000) under the broad definition of “allowing illegal activities during the preparation and conduct of mass actions.” Such sanctions already exist on the books in Russia, but only go up to 50,000 rubles. According to the BBC, even if the proposed fines are reduced in subsequent drafts of the legislation, they are expected to roughly equal the average annual salary in Russia.
United Russia, the majority party in the State Duma, approved the first reading of the bill by a 236 to 207 majority, with all other parties voting against or abstaining. President Putin has also voiced his support for the bill. According to reports, several opposition party members were arrested outside of parliament while protesting the legislation. Further underscoring the egregious nature of the bill is the fact that it could be used to punish demonstrators for violence that is all too often instigated by security forces or paid provocateurs. Earlier this month authorities cracked down on a sanctioned peaceful protest in Moscow, launching tear gas on crowds, beating women and journalists, and detaining more than 600 protesters, including three leading opposition figures.
Russia is rated Not Free in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2012 survey, and in Freedom of the Press 2012, which ranks it 172nd out of 197 countries for media freedom.
Freedom in the World 2012: Russia
Freedom of the Press 2011: Russia
Nations in Transit 2011: Russia